×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Stan Lee Celebrates a Marvelous Career in Comics and Film

Stan Lee, legendary comic writer and co-creator of iconic Marvel superheroes such as Spider-Man, X-Men, Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk, is a spry 94 years old, and he’s still trying to outdo himself career-wise. (Sadly, Lee’s wife, Joan, passed away July 6 at the age of 93.) He arrives to work every day at the Los Angeles offices of POW! Entertainment, where he continues to generate ideas for cutting-edge films and television projects, including the popular U.K. sci-fi crime series “Stan Lee’s Lucky Man,” starring James Nesbitt and Eve Best.

“I might come up with a new character who is more popular than the ones I’ve already done, or I might want to come up with a whole new kind of entertainment,” says Lee, whose hand and footprints will be captured in cement in front of the TCL Chinese Theatre on July 18. It is an event paid for and sponsored by the fan-funded media company Legion M. “The big thing is to keep working and keep trying to create, and hope you come up with something good.”

For Lee, that something good has manifested itself into a canon of groundbreaking comic heroes. Starting in the 1960s in New York — together with artists Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby — Lee created revolutionary three-dimensional characters. These were figures carved from the real world, with relatable flaws and problems to which any fan — kids and adults — could relate. From Peter Parker’s insecurities or Dr. Stephen Strange’s arrogance, these superheroes were far from perfect, each with an Achilles’ heel that made him vulnerable when he least expected it. They may have been larger than life — they could scale walls and fly across the sky — but they resonated with audiences on a deeply personal level.

This humanistic approach to superhero protagonists changed the trajectory of the comic book industry and turned Lee, himself, into a cult hero — a bonafide champion of the underdog in all of us. (Lee claims to have ruined his eyesight reading all the impassioned typewritten letters sent to him from fans over the decades.)

“The super[hero] angle is the thing that’s fiction, but I tried to make everything else as realistic as possible,” Lee says of his approach. “I try to think that if I had a superpower, what would my life be like?”

So ubiquitous in their popularity, Lee’s Marvel superheroes became to the modern world what mythological gods were to ancient cultures. Where there was once Apollo, there was now Captain America. These characters have never fallen out of favor.

While many film studios have struggled to get audiences interested in film versions of such once-iconic characters as King Arthur or the Lone Ranger, nearly every Marvel film rakes in big bucks at the box office. The rare misses, including the 2015 version of “Fantastic Four,” usually fail for straying too far from their creators’ core ideas. Conversely, the latest “Spider-Man” casts Peter Parker as a high school student, which is a return to Lee’s original intent.
“I think when it comes down to it, it’s the relatable nature of all of the heroes that makes them resonate [with people],” says Lee.

“They were not gods come down from the heavens,” adds Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios. “We recognize ourselves in them, and in their struggle to do what’s right.”

In 1972, having definitely altered the landscape of comic books, Lee took a break from writing and became Marvel’s publisher. In 1981 he moved to Los Angeles to develop Marvel’s TV and movie properties. Then, in 2000, Lee partnered with Gill Champion, POW! president and a producer who worked on Daniel Petrie’s 1981 crime drama “Fort Apache, the Bronx.”

“Although he remains chairman emeritus at Marvel, he was allowed to go out and compete, in a sense against himself, and create for the next generation of fans of superhero stories,” says Champion.
The way things work today, Lee delivers “a germ of the idea” to the team of POW! team writers, who then shepherd these ideas for further development. In addition to “Lucky Man,” which Champion says will be headed for American screens soon, POW! has produced the Syfy reality TV series “Who Wants to Be a Superhero?” and the graphic novel series “The Zodiac Legacy,” which Lee co-created with writer Stuart Moore. The company is also developing an anime series called “The Reflection.”

Per Champion, Lee kicks off every ideas meeting stressing “story, story, story and character, character, character.”

“His sense of visuals is still as strong as ever,” he says.
Same goes for Lee’s popularity; he can’t walk down the street without someone asking for his autograph. (On Aug. 22, a tribute event for fans named “Extraordinary: Stan Lee” will take place at L.A.’s Saban Theater.)

“He’s always there to sign an autograph, and now that everybody has their own camera, to take a selfie,” Champion says. “I don’t think there are many celebrities who would share that kind of experience with the fans.”

On the cusp of turning 95, Lee has no plans to slow down. On June 30, he delivered the keynote commencement speech at the University of California Los Angeles Extension, urging recent graduates to “enjoy your work, because you spend your entire life working.” Retirement, Lee strongly believes, “is a dirty word.”

“I love what I do,” says Lee. “If I had to do anything else, I’d be miserable. If I weren’t coming into the office and working with the people here, I would be sitting at home, watching television.”
To that end, Lee is now shooting four cameos for a quartet of movies. He makes a cameo appearance in every Marvel film, but “Thor,” he says, was his favorite.

“It’s the only cameo that I’ve done that was two scenes. Now I’m hoping they’ll give me three scenes. Before you know it, I’ll be one of the actors in the movie.”

More Film

  • 'Shazam!' Review: Zachary Levi is Pure

    Film Review: 'Shazam!'

    In “Shazam!,” Zachary Levi brings off something so winning it’s irresistible. He plays a square-jawed, rippling-muscled man of might, with a cheesy Day-Glo lighting bolt affixed to his chest, who projects an insanely wholesome and old-fashioned idea of what a superhero can be. But he’s also playing a breathless teenage kid on the inside, and [...]

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    Showrunners, Screenwriters Back WGA in Agency Battle, Sides to Meet Again Tuesday

    More than 750 showrunners and screenwriters have backed the WGA’s battle against talent agencies taking packaging fees and other changes to the rules governing the business relationship between agents and writers. The letter of support issued Saturday is significant because of the immense clout showrunners and prominent screenwriters possess in Hollywood. Several showrunners had recently [...]

  • Doppelgänger Red (Lupita Nyong'o) and Adelaide

    Box Office: 'Us' on Track for Second-Highest Debut of 2019 With $67 Million

    Jordan Peele’s “Us” is on its way to scaring up one of the biggest debuts of 2019, with an estimated $67 million from 3,741 North American locations. Should estimates hold, “Us” will be able to claim several milestones: the highest debut for an original horror movie (the biggest launch for any horror pic goes to [...]

  • NF_D_JGN-D6-2160.cr2

    Film Review: 'The Dirt'

    A long time ago, the words sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll carried a hint of danger. The lifestyle did, too, but I’m talking about the phrase. It used to sound cool (back around the time the word “cool” sounded cool). But sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll has long since passed into the realm [...]

  • James Newton Howard Danny Elfman

    New Trend in Concert Halls: Original Music by Movie Composers — No Film Required

    Movie and TV composers are in greater demand than ever for, surprisingly, new music for the concert hall. For decades, concert commissions for film composers were few and far between. The increasing popularity of John Williams’ film music, and his visibility as conductor of the Boston Pops in the 1980s and ’90s, led to his [...]

  • Idris Elba Netflix 'Turn Up Charlie'

    Idris Elba in Talks to Join Andy Serkis in 'Mouse Guard'

    Idris Elba is in negotiations to join Andy Serkis and Thomas Brodie-Sangster in Fox’s fantasy-action movie “Mouse Guard” with “Maze Runner’s” Wes Ball directing. Fox is planning a live-action movie through performance capture technology employed in the “Planet of the Apes” films, in which Serkis starred as the ape leader Caesar. David Peterson created, wrote, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content